NIHL North season preview 2015/16

NIHL North makes a welcome return this weekend with the strongest line-up in the league’s history. C2C casts its eye over the teams to see what we can expect.

Last year’s Moralee D1 double winners have undergone a mini-revolution this summer, with new boss Dan MacKriel bringing in seven new players.

Canadian forward RJay Berra arrives in Lancashire with an impressive looking CV and should prove to be a shrewd addition, but Hawks’ hopes of repeating their success will hinge on how well the new boys handle the weight of fan expectations and being the team everyone wants to beat.

The Teessiders’ roster looks stronger than last season, but Stars need better luck with injuries if they’re to mount a proper challenge to the Hawks this time around.

New Swedish forward Dennis Boström looks capable of racking up big numbers in NIHLN, while the returning Matt Sellers strengthens their defensive options. With a number of emerging youngsters on the roster, Stars should at least make the play-offs.

Head Coach Martin Grubb made a big statement of intent by signing Martin Cingel and Juraj Senko, but it’s the loss of netminder Gary Russell to the Elite League which could have the biggest impact on Sharks’ title hopes.

Craig Douglas was brought in to replace Russell, but his sudden exit to Fife Flyers was an unwelcome blow to the club’s plans. If Grubb can find a solution Sharks will be in the hunt for honours.

A top four finish and an appearance at the end-of-season play-off showdown in Dumfries was just reward for Spartans’ efforts last season.

Netminder Brandon Stones continues to impress, while experienced forwards Stuart Brittle and Ollie Barron remain amongst the best forwards in the league. Jonathan Kirk’s departure to the EPL is a big loss, but Spartans’ ability to develop younger players will stand them in good stead once again.

Remain capable of troubling the best teams in the league, but need to address their inconsistencies if they’re to force themselves into the top four.

New Player/Coach John Ross is an experienced campaigner, while the likes of James Spurr, Richie Oliver and Shaun Ashton are all capable of troubling NIHLN defences. A place in the play-offs will be the aim, anything more than that would be a welcome bonus.

New boss David Longstaff made the most talked about signing of the summer, with vastly experienced forward Andre Payette moving north to add some steel to the roster.

Warriors’ continued to be strong on home ice last season, but Longstaff needs to improve their fortunes on the road if they’re to challenge for a top four slot. The loss of Dean Holland to injury is also a serious setback to their hopes.

After sweeping all before them in Laidler D2 for two seasons, Barons have finally stepped up to tackle the best NIHLN has to offer.

New Player/Coach Perry Doyle will be keen to impress in his first season in charge, and with Niklas Ottosson, Josh Bruce and Tom Soar in his ranks Doyle has some quality firepower at his disposal. Barons will be a handful at home, but they may find D1 teams a tougher proposition on their travels.

After winning promotion in their first season, Tigers will want to keep the momentum going this year. The addition of Callum Bowley to the roster after over 200 EPL games boosts a youthful looking squad, but it’s one which looks a little thin defensively.

With Red Hockey’s resources behind them Tigers should have enough about them to retain their D1 status, but a challenge for a play-off place could be a tough ask.

Secured promotion with games to spare, but Senators may find things difficult in D1. Whitley’s demolition of Widnes Wild in last season’s promotion/relegation play-off showed the gulf in quality between the two divisions and Senators need some points early if they’re to avoid relegation.

Always capable of developing players capable of playing at a higher level, Senators will hope to find more hidden gems on the Sheffield production line.

Deeside Dragons are strong favourites to take the Laidler D2 title following their takeover by Red Hockey. Dragons have snapped up Filip Supa from Widnes, while Slovakian import Adrian Palak should be a handful for D2 defences.

Scott McKenzie left the EPL’s Telford Tigers to join Widnes as Player/Coach, but with Supa and a number of other players exiting the club their roster doesn’t look quite as strong as last season.

Altrincham Aces and Nottingham Lions will hope to challenge Deeside, Blackburn Eagles have made some impressive looking signings, while Coventry Blaze need to bounce back from last year’s disappointing campaign.

Hull Jets ended 2014/15 in a comfortable mid-table position and should remain competitive again, while Bradford Bulldogs will look to improve in their second season back in NIHL North.

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